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Clergy provide the majority of marriage preparation; however, most clergy feel unprepared to provide effective premarital education. Little is known about how education and training affect clergy's feelings of competence in providing marriage preparation. Data from a nationwide survey suggest that education and training are related to self-efficacy beliefs among clergy. The findings showed that those clergy who reported higher levels of education, particularly doctoral degrees, and specialized training through marriage preparation courses and continuing education opportunities have higher self-efficacy beliefs. Results are discussed in terms of the merit and utility of educating and training clergy for marriage preparation.
Improving marital quality and stability has emerged as a major focus of contemporary family scholars and government agencies because of the astounding financial and social costs of divorce and the association of marriage with the social good of America (Wilcox et al., 2005). Estimates of the financial cost of family fragmentation for state, local, and federal governments in the United States range from $33.3 billion to $112 billion per year (Scafidi, 2008; Schramm, 2006). Social costs are harder to quantify, but researchers have noted the following as negative, social outcomes of divorce: depression and lowered commitment to marriage (Amato & DeBoer, 2001), maternal stress and quality of parenting (Osborne & McLanahan, 2007), and unhealthy relationship dynamics (Booth & Amato, 2001) for individuals who divorce as well as an increased risk for undesirable emotional, health, and behavioral outcomes for children (Amato, 2007).
To accomplish the goal of improved marital stability and quality, family professionals have campaigned for the development and implementation of high-quality premarital education, which has been shown to be one of the most effective interventions available (Stahmann & Hiebert, 1997; Stanley, 2001). Marriage preparation is associated with a 31% lower rate of marital dissolution and is effective in improving marital satisfaction and commitment to one's spouse (Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markman, 2006). Clergy not only have been identified as strategic participants in the process of providing marriage preparation, but they also provide the majority of premarital education in the United States (Glenn, 2005; Stanley et al., 2001). However, little is known about how education and training affect clergy beliefs of self-efficacy as providers of marriage preparation.
Clergy Involvement in Marriage Preparation
Historically, premarital education has been provided within religious organizations (Stanley et al., 2001). Currently, more than 90% of couples who receive marriage preparation do so from a church or another religious institution (Glenn, 2005). Researchers have frequently noted that clergy occupy a strategic position that gives them several advantages in providing premarital counseling and education, including their access to and influence with couples since as many as 80% of first marriages occur in religious organizations (Stanley et al., 2001). Other advantages include a belief in the value of marriage, a strong educational tradition, and an institutional base of operations (Stanley, Markman, St. Peters, & Leber, 1995). In response to this belief in the salience of clergy interventions, clergy in more than 200 communities and in 40 states have established Community Marriage Policies (CMPs), setting minimum standards for marriage preparation (Marriage Savers, 2009). Birch, Weed, and Olsen (2004) found that counties with a CMP have a decline in the divorce rate nearly twice that of control counties.
In addition to opportunities clergy have to provide premarital education, researchers have found that clergy also have the ability to …